You have a content vision and strategy—perhaps even more than one content strategy.
You know what kind of effective and influential content you want to offer. You’re committed to establishing a system of content intelligence to inform ongoing content decisions. Now, you need to execute.
Unfortunately, there is no content fairy ready to wave a magic wand. But there is a growing discipline that I call content operations, and it will help you sustain and even scale your implementation.
What content operations is
Content operations is the behind-the-scenes work of managing content activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. Today, content operations often require a mix of elements related to people, process, and technology. Table 10.1 shows a sample.
If this sampling already seems like more operations than you bargained for, you are not alone. Many companies I come across think of content operations as scrambling once each month to get a blog post together, if they think about content operations at all. It is time to think differently about your company’s content work.
Why care about content operations
Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics, as the saying goes. If you are new to content, your instinct will be to underestimate the effort it takes to sustain and scale effective content. The demand for content that meets high customer expectations has never been greater. So in a way, we are all new to content and at risk of underestimating what it takes to succeed.
Considering content operations will help align your behind-the-scenes activities with your content vision and strategy so that you reduce the risk of failure and make repeating or scaling success easier. More specifically, considering content operations will help you gain efficiencies and make the most of your content assets by:
- Putting the right people in the right roles
- Creating or streamlining processes
- Distinguishing between maintenance and ongoing innovation
- Choosing the technologies and tools with the right features to support your operations
To help companies plan for content operations, I developed a simple maturity model.
A maturity model for content operations
Statistician George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” In that spirit, I developed this maturity model to help companies “get real” about their content operations. The model can help your company identify your current level of content operations and then decide whether that level will support your content vision and strategy. If it doesn’t, then the model can help you plan to get to the next level of content operations.
I based this model on:
- My experience with in-depth consulting for dozens of companies and training for thousands of content professionals
- Content leadership and operations studies conducted by Content Science, with 200 content professionals participating
So although this model might not be perfectly right, it’s informed by enough data and feedback to be useful. The model consists of five levels, as you can see in Table 10.2.
In our 2017 study of content operations, 51 percent of participants reported that their companies were at level 3, while only 5 percent of participants reported their companies at level 51 (Figure 10.1). I believe that our study sample was slightly skewed toward companies that care enough about content to hire content professionals. Based on my experience, I’d put most companies today at levels 2 or 3.
Let’s briefly walk through each level of content operations maturity.
LEVEL 1 — CHAOTIC: Ad-hoc approaches
At this level, content for most people is an afterthought. The key characteristics of this level are summarised in Table 10.3.
LEVEL 2 — PILOTING: Bringing some order to the chaos
At this level, the chaos continues in most areas, but enough people have felt the pain of content chaos or seen the potential of great content that they want to make a change (Table 10.4).
LEVEL 3 — SCALING: Trying to repeat the success
With the scaling level, a company has experienced at least some success from piloting content operations and wants to expand the content operations (Table 10.5).
LEVEL 4 — SUSTAINING: Creating more order than chaos
Companies at this level of content operations are not only establishing content operations for each business function but also aligning them to create a core content capacity (Table 10.6).
LEVEL 5 — THRIVING: Maintaining order and systematising innovation
Companies with thriving content operations are doing everything at level 4, and they have enough resources to fund, ironically, returning to chaos in a controlled way—innovation. These companies devote some operational resources to explore where and how to innovate, and then pilot select innovations and eventually adopt them in core operations (Table 10.7).
Large companies might have multiple maturity levels
If you’re a large company or enterprise, you might find that different areas of your company are at different levels of content operations maturity. That’s OK. You can use areas of your company that are more mature as models or sources of ideas for less mature areas. You might even be able to share technology and tools so that you can bring maturity across your company in efficient and cost-effective ways.
For example, I once worked with a large telecommunications client that had very different levels of content maturity operations in its business-to-consumer (B2C) functions compared to its business-to-business (B2B) functions. The B2C content teams operated at a solid level 3 and were making progress toward level 4. The teams were in the process of implementing a more sophisticated content management system, automating their workflow, and exploring how to use machine learning to optimise offers. Additionally, B2C teams were even hiring content engineers. However, B2B content teams had built a good rapport with the team and many stakeholders, and they were composed mostly of writers and editors and operated at level 2. The B2B operations had no content management system (really!), low visibility with content stakeholders, and frequent disagreements and miscommunications both within their team and with stakeholders. As the company realised the disparity, I worked with them to facilitate adapting what was working for the B2C teams to the B2B teams as well as to explore the use of the content management system and workflow tools across teams. Te conglomerate has continued to make progress in maturing their content operations.
Small businesses can mature content operations quickly
With operations, small businesses can have a big advantage. Often, small businesses can get to level 3 or 4 much more quickly than a big business because they have less bureaucracy to overcome and more control over the entire customer experience. Smart small businesses can also try to optimise solutions faster than larger ones. For example, the Rack Athletic Performance Center has solved the problem of sourcing content in several creative ways, such as
- Forming a reward system where the Rack coaches earn the opportunity to contribute articles to a Knowledge Center. The articles are useful to customers and show the coaches’ expertise. Content is something coaches get to do, not something they have to do
- Profiling the Rack customers as they achieve goals and overcome challenges
- Integrating into their daily routines the taking and posting of photos and videos that demonstrate exercises, show clients using equipment, and more
- Encouraging customers to take photos and videos of themselves in action and post them to social media, where the Rack can repost them
- Automating a set of emails for new customers that orient them to the Rack and connect them to more useful content
The Rack implemented and optimised these approaches over the course of a few months. A large company would take at least a year to do something comparable.
What’s your level of content operations maturity?
Want to assess your company’s level of content operations maturity? Is your company chaotic, piloting, scaling, sustaining, or thriving? Take the Content Operations Assessment online to get a quick assessment and a free copy of the latest content operations study.
This article is an excerpt from The Content Advantage by Colleen Jones.